Sunken Cities

How would I celebrate my birthday this month in the midst of the pandemic, I wondered. Getting on a plane was out of the question. Finally, I settled on doing short excursions not so far from home. So Wednesday eve, after a day helping my nephew work on his new house near Lynchburg, VA, my husband, David, and I checked into an exceptionally clean hotel in Farmville, VA. I liked that there was no carpet on the floor and the soaps and lotion were in squeezable wall-mounted containers. No packaging or waste. As we were being served breakfast the next morning, I expressed my joy to the server that the Georgia run-off election had given a victory to an African American pastor and a former investigative journalist. She responded, “Yes, Georgia has finally come outta the woods!”

After breakfast, we continued on to Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to view the special exhibit named in the photo to the left. David and I had taught English in Egypt for six months in 2015 and wanted to see the exhibit before it is taken down. The museum felt like a peaceful haven in contrast to the disturbing insurrection and mayhem that had just taken place in our nation’s capitol the day before. It was not crowded and had adequate safety protocols in place.

The exhibit focused on treasures that were recovered from two powerful ancient Egyptian cities that sank into the Mediterranean more than a thousand years ago. Destroyed by natural catastrophes in the 8th century AD, Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus were once mighty centers of trade, where Egyptian and Greek cultures merged in art, worship, and everyday life. Artifacts from these cities attest to the range of human experience including how rituals were performed in dedication to the god Osiris and others in this ancient land. One story told of a young god that was hidden among reeds in the Nile before being rescued. I was reminded of the biblical story of Moses and how it was situated in a poly-theistic culture.

I was particularly struck by the statement on the museum website: “Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities tells a riveting human saga of grandeur, complexity, wealth, and power, reminding us of the potentially devastating effects of natural disasters and the vulnerability of even the mightiest of human civilizations.” I thought of our country’s many current vulnerabilities: the deaths and other hardships resulting from a natural pandemic; the ongoing extinctions, sinking islands, and other climate change casualties; and now the attack on our democratic rituals and center of government through the power of repeated lies and a personality cult. I pray that our democratic ideals, our nation, will not go the way of the sunken cities–that the future will belong to truth-tellers with compassionate hearts who care about the welfare of all. Only in this way will our country finally get “outta the woods.”

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